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Catholic-Orthodox prospects in view as Pope meets Medvedev

Catholic World News - February 17, 2011

Both international affairs and ecumenical prospects were on the agenda as Pope Benedict XVI met on February 17 with President Dimitri Medvedev of Russia.

The 35-minute conversation was the first meeting between the Pope and the Russian leader since the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between Russia and the Holy See last year. An official Vatican communiqué said that “the parties expressed their pleasure at the good state of bilateral relations and highlighted their desire to strengthen them.”

Before turning to international affairs—with a special focus on the Middle East—the Pope and Medvedev then spoke about “the positive contribution inter-religious dialogue can make to society,” the Vatican statement continued.

Because of the close ties between the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church, observers had anticipated that Medvedev might act as an intermediary, broaching the subject of a “summit meeting” between the Pontiff and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. An official spokesman for the Moscow Patriarchate poured cold water on that hypothesis, saying that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Vatican “maintain a regime of constant communication and consultations at various levels,” and would not require Medvedev’s intervention.

Nevertheless, Vatican-watchers took a keen interest in the Russian president’s visit, particularly because an anonymous member of the Russian delegation had said that Medvedev might introduce the possibility of an ecumenical summit. In the past, former Russian President Vladimir Putin had reportedly introduced that possibility during a visit to the Vatican.

Relations between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate have warmed considerably in recent years. Russian Orthodox leaders have indicated that they are more comfortable with Pope Benedict XVI than with Pope John Paul II, whose Polish background roused old ethnic animosities. The death of Patriarch Alexei II in 2008, and the election of Patriarch Kirill—who had been the top ecumenical-affairs officer for the Russian Orthodox Church— brought still more hope for ecumenical prospects.

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